Sunderland v Newcastle: Black Cats make “unforgivable” Stadium of Light error days before FA Cup derby

Sunderland’s ownership group have been forced into an embarrassing U-turn two days before their crunch FA Cup tie with bitter rivals Newcastle United as the Wearside club apologised for a “serious error in judgement” after the Black Cats’ Bar was decked out in black and white.

As preparations for the derby picked up pace, banners and imagery depicting Newcastle United slogans and chants were put on display, a move which BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland commentator Nick Barnes has described as “unforgivable.”

“I believe most [Sunderland fans] would accept that housing the Newcastle fans in the North Stand is tolerable at best,” Barnes told SportsByte.

“But then to actually turn a part of their ‘home’ into Newcastle United colours is understandably beyond the pale.”

Among those erected were a banner crossing out “Ha’way” replacing it with “Howay” – the Geordie dialect’s spelling of the phrase – and an image behind a bar reading “cheer up Peter Reid”, the words of an anti-Sunderland chant sang by Newcastle fans. The chant features the vulgar line “sad Mackem b*****d.”

Barnes also said:

“There is an argument that Kyril Louis-Dreyfus has lost sight of what is important to the fans.

“Sadly, I fear a line has been crossed”.

It is a sentiment echoed by fans as criticism of the board has been prevalent on social media with many taking to X and Facebook to make their feelings about the situation known.

Alex Kirkup, 27, a Sunderland fan living in Newcastle was among many supporters venting their frustration at the decision, telling SportsByte:

“I can rationalise the 6k [ticket] allocation – we’d have wanted that many. But this… I can’t rationalise.

“I pray the players won’t roll over as easily as the board”.

Responding to the controversy, Sunderland released a statement saying:

“Sunderland AFC acknowledges that a serious error in judgement was made in relation to Black Cats Bar earlier this afternoon.

“We apologise to our fans for the understandable concern they have fairly voiced in response and this sentiment is shared by the Club’s Ownership Group and Board of Directors, who have requested an immediate review is undertaken to determine how this process unfolded.

“A direct decision has also been taken by the Ownership Group and Board of Directors to return the space to its original state and we once again apologise to our supporters that this was not addressed sooner”.

Meanwhile owner Louis-Dreyfus made his own statement via Instagram saying he was “disgusted and hurt” by the situation and felt he had “let down” fans. But the Swiss-born businessman said he took “full responsibility” for every decision at the club.

When asked if he would have sanctioned the display of Newcastle banners inside Stadium of Light bars, former Black Cats’ executive director Charlie Methven told SportsByte: “No comment!”.

Scott Wilson, The Northern Echo’s chief sports writer said that while Sunderland’s statement went some way to mend relations with fans, “the anger hasn’t entirely abated”.

He told SportsByte: “One thing it has done, though, is create a sense of real ferocity amongst the fanbase – if Michael Beale and the Sunderland players can channel any of that into their performance on the pitch on Saturday, perhaps it will play into their favour.”

Sunderland head into the derby with two wins in the last five league games and sit just inside the Championship playoff positions under the leadership of new head coach Michael Beale who replaced Tony Mowbray in December.

Beale said that he could “feel the anticipation building” for the derby match as soon as he was appointed and admitted it had been “far too long” since the rivals faced off against each other. He conceded Newcastle were “a very good team” but said his team would look to “bring the best version” of itself on Saturday.

Newcastle however, come into the fixture after a dreadful run of form with only one win in the last eight in all competitions, crashing out of the Champions League and the Carabao Cup.

Magpies’ head coach Eddie Howe hailed his “incredible” supporters who he said had given the team “a lot” this season. But Howe was not drawn into discussion on the presence of black and white banners inside the Black Cats’ Bar saying “it’s up to Sunderland what they do with their stadium”.

The FA Cup game has already been a contentious one for Sunderland fans who have seen season ticket holders moved out of their seats to accommodate the 6,000 strong Newcastle allocation at the Stadium of Light.

FA Cup rules state that travelling clubs are entitled to up to 15% of the stadium’s capacity for tickets.

Newcastle and Sunderland have not played against each other in the FA Cup since 1956 and this will be only the eighth time the teams have faced off in the competition’s storied history. The head-to-head record in the FA Cup is two wins for both Sunderland and Newcastle and three draws.

But Newcastle have not beaten Sunderland since that Ryan Taylor freekick went over the wall and etched itself into Geordie folklore in 2011.

Sunderland’s recent form against Newcastle makes for much better reading for the Black Cats. They are unbeaten in nine matches and went on a six-game winning streak between 2013 and 2015.

The Wear-Tyne derby kicks off at 12.45pm on Saturday January 6 and will be televised live on ITV1.